Efes Pilsen sent a message that echoed all around Group B by downing previously undefeated Lietuvos Rytas 70-77 in Vilnius, Lithuania on Wednesday night. Efes registered its second consecutive win in Group B and improved to 3-2 in the standings. Meanwhile, Lietuvos Rytas dropped to 4-1 and will at least tie for first place at the end of this round. Drew Nicholas led the winners with 19 points before leaving the game with a sprained ankle in the final minute. Ermal Kuqo added 15 points off the Efes bench, Kenny Gregory had 12 while Andre Hutson got 11 for the Turkish powerhouse. Hollis Price had 23 points for L. Rytas, Marijonas Petravicius posted a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds while Matt Nielsen also added 12 points for the hosts, who led 8-2 early. Kuqo led a 2-18 run that allowed Efes to get full control of the game, 10-20. L. Rytas got within 29-33 at halftime and managed to get a 37-33 edge early in the third quarter. The game turned into a balanced battle from then on, but Kuqo buried a triple and Nicholas added 5 free throws to put Efes ahead for good, 61-69. L.Rytas never gave up, but Efes left the court with their biggest win so far this season.
Nielsen got L. Rytas going with free throws, which Serkan Erdogan erased with an easy basket, as both teams tried to adjust their defenses in the early going. Price fired in a long two-pointer, while the hosts kept Efes scoreless for three minutes. Nielsen made more foul shots for a 6-2 L.Rytas edge as Efes kept missing shots, even around the basket. A fast-break layup by Petravicius caused Efes head coach David Blatt call timeout. Kuqo came off the bench and immediately delivered with a jump hook and Gregory soon added a fast-break layup to bring Efes back to life. Kuqo banked in another jump hook as the game turned into a physical battle. An unsportsmanlike foul by Kuqo allowed Nielsen to give the hosts a 9-8 edge. Kuqo kept pacing Efes with a big basket in the low post before picking up his second foul. A free throw by Joao Batista and a seven-meter triple by Nicholas fixed the score at 10-13 after 10 minutes.
Nicholas fed Loren Woods for a two-handed dunk at the start of the second quarter. Nicholas then went from provider to scorer with a driving layup, while L. Rytas, which had been limited to 2 points in more than six minutes, took a timeout down 10-17. Efes continued to dominate the game with outstanding defense, not allowing any easy shots. Meanwhile, Woods capped a mammoth 2-18 run with a huge fast break dunk. L. Rytas had missed 6 consecutive shots until Nielsen stepped up with an easy basket. Nicholas erased it with free throws for a 12-22 Efes lead. Andre Hutson scored in the low post, as L. Rytas entered the foul bonus. Nielsen paced the hosts with a driving layup that Erdogan matched with foul shots. Price stepped up with a stop-and-pop jumper and one from downtown, but Gregory and Hutson still kept Efes ahead, 19-31. Petravicius found a put-back layup and Price added free throws to get the crowd involved at 23-31. Hutson silenced everyone with a mid-range jumper but Nielsen buried a triple and Efes called timeout at 26-33. Martynas Gecevicius fired in a corner three-pointer to get L. Rytas even closer, 29-33, at halftime.
To start the second half, Arturas Jomantas dew a foul on Nicholas to get L. Rytas within 31-33 on free throws. Next, Petravicius copied him to tie it up, and then Price put L. Rytas ahead 35-33 with a jumper. Petravicius finished a 7-0 run with free throws before Kuqo answered for Efes. He got the guests closer with a short shot and then blasted a triple for a 38-38 tie. Petravicius just kept dominating inside and getting to the line for 3 additional free throws, giving him 8 in the quarter already, good for a 41-38 L. Rytas advantage. Efes did not panic, however, as Hutson and Kerem Gonlum responded with baskets to seize the lead again for their team at 41-42. Back and forth went the lead, to L. Rytas on 4 points in a row by Price, to Efes on a triple by Nicholas, to a 47-47 tie on Chuck Eidson's free throws, as the game turned into an exciting battle. The third quarter was decided when Scoonie Penn got the last basket down, leaving Efes up by 47-49 after 30 minutes.
Hutson started the final quarter by adding a free throw to the Efes lead. Eidson dribble-drove for a layup, then answered Kenny Gregory's triple with his own to keep L. Rytas close at 52-53. Gonlum got a jump hook to go down, but Eidson answered that, too, then kicked out a pass to Andrius Slezas for the go-ahead triple at 57-55. Nicholas appeared with a fall-away lane-jumper to tie, then after Gregory hit a free throw that put Efes up again, blasted a triple to make it 57-61 as the clock went below 5 minutes remaining. Kuqo made a free throw, as L. Rytas had troubles to score until Price stepped up with a floating layup. Kuqo - who else? - fired in a triple from the left wing but Jomantas' drive got L. Rytas within 61-65 with 3 minutes to go. Efes found its regular go-to guy in Nicholas, who went 5-for-5 from the foul line to give his team a 61-69. It was do-or-die time for L. Rytas and Price buried a seven-meter triple. Penn fed Gregory for a reverse layup, as Nicholas left the game with a sprained ankle. Price kept trying but everything was said and done up to that point, as free throws by Erdogan and Penn allowed Efes to seal a big road win in style.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007